Image of Thomas Aquinas,
Image of Thomas Aquinas,

What makes a good school?  I have attempted to share thoughts on this question in a February 2013 post entitled, What qualities make for an ideal school or classroom?  One quality that I believe great schools embrace, but did not discuss in the earlier post, is the desire to create an environment in which all students’ thirst for hope is valued, nurtured, and actualized.

Thomas Aquinas has written extensively on the meaning and value of virtues.  His four cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, courage, and justice.  In describing the virtue of courage he writes:

….For he will not only have to endure pain and suffering, he must aggressively confront the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving his proper good. His success in confronting those obstacles requires that he exercise a “strength of hope” which arises from a confidence in his own strength, the strength of others, or the promises of God. Such hope enables him to confront threats and challenges without reservation.  (1)

Aquinas sees hope as a path towards action.

What does a school that creates an environment in which all students’ desire for finding “their own strength” to “confront threats and challenges without reservation” look like?  I believe it values and embraces the following practices:

  • it honors the voices of all students.
  • it encourages students to take risks.
  • it builds a system of assessment that does not punish risk-taking.
  • it creates a system in which students adopt full responsibility for their achievement.
  • it rewards effort and a growth mindset.
  • it emphasizes competing with self not with others.
  • it builds a system in which students set goals and are accountable for trying to reach them.

You might want to add to my list.  Here is my thought about why developing and nurturing hope in every child is critical.  The expression of hope can be tied to five important ideas:

  1. hope cements bonds and relationships between people.
  2. hope is tied to a genuine concern for human nature and Earth as our home.
  3. hope strengths our creative energy.
  4. hope keeps the mind open to new ideas and expands the imagination.
  5. hope gives us courage to persevere when challenges arise.

Schools should enter into a pack with their students that when they graduate from 5th, 8th or 12th grade they will have experienced a learning environment that has helped them build hope for their future.  In order to accomplish that task, we (educators) need to fashion our schools to embrace the qualities that support hopefulness not helplessness.


(1) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, (c) courage, 3rd paragraph.